Interview: Chico DeBarge Discusses What He’s Been Up To, His Creative Process, Changes He’s Seen in Music Over the Years
Chico DeBarge has always been one of those artists I’ve admired through the years. The younger brother of the legendary El DeBarge and part of the musical DeBarge family, his style and voice always stood out from the rest. Aside from the fact that he’s a very talented singer, I’ve always had an affinity for his being a true musician and being able to compose all of his own music. He’s not an artist you’re going to get an album from every year, or every other year even, but one you know when you do get his next project, it will be something that’s genuinely from his soul. He’s the type of artist who rather than rush out a project just to appease the fans, he’s likely to indulge in the whole musical process and just let the music marinate as he expresses himself with it. Yea I know, these sound like foreign concepts in today’s r&b world. In this interview, we discuss what he’s been up to, his creative process, expressing himself with his music, being on a major label vs. going independent, the changes he’s seen in music over the years, the definition of a perfect fan, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I know you released your last album “Addiction” back in 2009. What have you been up to since then?
Chico DeBarge: Actually I’ve been touring quite a bit and I’ve been preparing to go with my brother El on a European tour as well. Just staying busy doing shows which is really exciting for me.
YKIGS: Do you have plans to release your next album anytime soon?
CD: I’m going to take my time of course and just write. I like to do that first, I like to just have some good material at my leisure so I can just decide if I want to give it to another artist or just do it myself if it fits. Writing is my first love so I try to stay constantly doing that. The artistry thing, I’m still debating on a home for the next project, I’m still with Kedar so we’re still ironing out some contractual differences so I can get a new home. So that’s the plan.
YKIGS: Talk more about your writing. I’ve talked to a lot of writers and each has a different process for putting songs together, so it always interests me to hear how an artist goes into making a song. Take me through your process.
CD: If I’m trying to write, and actually writing to write, I usually try to stay melody based and just base everything on melody and fill in the lyrics after. I like the melody to sound good first before I concentrate on the lyrics. It needs to feel good and that’s my theory, it needs to feel good and sound good first, then it makes sense. So that’s pretty much the basis of what I start with and go from there, the melody.
YKIGS: In addition to writing, I know that you’re a true musician. You play many instruments, you compose your own music, and you put songs together on your own. That’s rare these days, so what does it mean to you?
CD: It means a lot. It helps me express myself better because I don’t have to run into the issue of having someone else express it for me and then being frustrated that they’re not doing it quite the way I hear it inside my head. Being a musician, I’m able to express that as an outlet and what it is that I’m trying to hear. So it means a lot.
YKIGS: I know you mentioned that you’re working out some details for a future contract. But do you feel that an artist like yourself who can create their own music is better off going the independent route? You’ve been on a major label in the past, but do you prefer to go independent at this point in your career?
CD: It doesn’t really matter. The major label is a plus too because you’ve got of course the millions of dollars behind you and you don’t really have that at an independent. That’s a plus because it almost ensures the success of the album if you’ve got good material. You’ve gotta pay all that back of course, but you get that back on the road because the album is sure to be a success and you’re sure to do a tour where you could get your own money. You might be paying the label back on the royalty side but you can go out and do concerts and make plenty of money and bring home the bread. So that’s a plus. Independent, I would say it has its pluses too because if it’s successful you’ll be a millionaire and it will be a legitimate
million. It’s not something that the company advanced you.
YKIGS: I want to ask you about an artist you’ve collaborated with many times over the years, he’s been on your albums and you guys have done songs together over the years, and that artist is Joe. How did you originally link up with Joe and what’s your relationship like?
CD: Joe is managed by Kedar and Kedar of course was the label that I started out on. So the relationship was kinda born out of that situation we both had with Kedar. So we met and were kinda around each other and became a family and frequented each other’s studio. Of course we liked each other’s music as well. Joe I think was on his second album I think when I was on my first, and he liked the direction I was going in and wanted to be a part of it. I was remixing “No Guarantee” and he already knew the lyrics and everything and I was surprised that he did! So I told him since he was singing it, why didn’t he get behind the mic! We just gelled ever since.
YKIGS: I love the music you guys have made together over the years.
CD: Thank you, thank you for that.
YKIGS: Since you released your first album back in the 80’s, talk about the changes you’ve seen in music and r&b and soul music in general.
CD: Oh man, so much. I would artist development is not much there anymore and back then it was a big thing. Berry Gordy was of course artist development heavy and into developing artists to promote longevity, he really believed in sticking behind an artist. An artist could have a bad album and still he would give them another chance, he was in it for the long haul. So back then record labels were into developing artists for the long haul and I don’t see that too much anymore. Music has changed a lot too, it’s become a little more computer dependant and not so much home grown.
YKIGS: I picked out a few of my favorite songs of yours from over the years and I was hoping to hear some background on each.
YKIGS: The first one is “When Can I See You Again” from “The Game” album.
CD: Yea, Brian McKnight, that was one of his joints. That was a lesson for me because Brian taught me some techniques and skills that I’ve used for the rest of my life. He really taught me some singing skills and vocal techniques.
YKIGS: Next is “It’s Cool” from the “Free” album.
CD: That was pretty much a free form song believe it or not, I got behind the mic and wrote that on the spot, didn’t write it down on paper, it kinda just came from my feelings and what I was going through at the time. I really love that song, that’s close to my heart. It’s a very forgiving song.
YKIGS: One more, and I know this is a favorite of a lot of your fans, “Iggin Me”.
CD: That’s special. Me and El were in the studio and I just remember hearing El begin to play those chords and it just immediately pulled me. I got up and began to sing and El began to say “Wow, we got something, dim the lights, here it is!” El is such a seasoned and experienced writer and producer and he knows when something is being born that’s special and it’s about to be something great. He knows how to set the mood for it and make way for it. I can remember him making way for it by dimming the lights and saying that we had something here and we needed to stick to it and close our eyes and not let go of it. I love where it went to.
YKIGS: You’ve had a bunch of albums over the years. Do you have a favorite or one that you feel is strongest?
CD: I like the “Free” album. Pretty much I’m very, very close to that album. Some of my own favorite songs are on the “Free” album such as “Virtuous”. It’s very much an album about me pretty much crying out and looking for true love because I had never fallen in love and I was wondering if there was such a thing. Basically it was a call crying out from my soul to whoever was my soul mate to come, “Hurry up baby I’m here, where are you?” I had been going through heartbreak and I went through a lot in my relationship with a terrible breakup. It was me basically looking for love and I was very emotional.
YKIGS: You’ve had many collaborations over the years on other artists’ albums. Is there one that stands out as a favorite?
CD: I like the Noreaga one. “Soopaman Lova” too, I like that one with Redman.
YKIGS: I have a couple of questions from your fans on Twitter who I reached out to. First question is what’s your definition of a perfect fan?
CD: Oh wow! I don’t think there’s such a thing as one but let me try and describe it. Someone that is a fan of themselves as well and can walk with a confidence about themselves and separate meaning from the music. They have to understand that I’m a person and be grounded without being overboard. I think that’s important and that would be a perfect fan to me.
YKIGS: Another one is what do you feel you could bring to today’s music that hasn’t been done already?
CD: Maybe my expression of love. I think that’s all I can do that hasn’t been done is give my expression and my interpretation. Nothing’s new under the sun.
YKIGS: Coming up in the music industry and growing up from an early age, did you ever feel alienated from the rest of the DeBarge family just because your style was so much different than theirs?
CD: I wouldn’t say alienated but definitely felt different. I just didn’t know where I fit and I had an identity crisis at one time. I was concerned about living up to the rest of the family because it was such a great mark that they set. Alienated? Maybe. But not in a bad way.
YKIGS: Anything you’d like to add?
CD: Just one thing. I think that all music is soul music when it comes from the depths of you. When it’s heart born, it’s going to be heartfelt to someone. Our music is our message towards finding a place that we would never see so bring it from the soul so you can speak to a soul. All of the artists and writers and producers that are out there, let’s keep soul music alive. Whether you’re doing rock music or contemporary or whatever, it still can have soul.